When most people think of The Bronx, they picture rundown, dangerous neighborhoods with drug dealers, junkies and gangs shooting at each other and hitting everyone else, in between selling crack to first graders, beating up old ladies and scaring the hell out of everyone. They picture a borough populated with thugs and hookers and dropouts, with a few terrified normal working class people here and there.
Remember The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe? If you've read the book, you'll know to what I am referring. If you have not read it, please do. It's a great novel.
Okay. There are some areas of The Bronx that are not so fine, but the same can be said for almost everywhere else on earth. Why should The Bronx be any different?
Oh, but we have our nice areas, too. Yes, we do. I ought to know.
|A Friendly Neighborhood|
I live in a section of The Bronx called Kingsbridge. It used to be an Irish neighborhood, and some of the Irish are still around, most of them older people. Now it is heavily Hispanic, mostly Dominican. It's a friendly neighborhood. I am used to being called “Mami” by everyone from church choir members to the man who sells flavored ices on the street on hot summer days. I’m one of his steady customers.
There are only a few Italians in the neighborhood and, in true Italian fashion, most of them live almost next door to each other, on the same two streets.
Someone once told me that New York City cops love to be assigned to our local precinct because so little happens here. No, we are not completely crime free, but we're pretty close to it, as big city neighborhoods go. I suspect that one reason for this might be the two huge churches, one Anglican Episcopalian and one Roman Catholic, that stand on the same block on Kingsbridge Avenue, reminding potential evildoers of where they will end up if they rob a corner grocery store and get killed right afterward before they get a chance to repent. To add strength to the message, the Catholic church has pre-recorded bells that ring at certain times. If the sight of two giant churches doesn't put the fear of God into a sinner, those bells will.
The neighborhood is mostly Roman Catholic, which isn't surprising in a Latino/Irish neighborhood. The result is that the Catholic church, The Church of St. John/Visitation, has a huge congregation, most of whom don't know each other, although you'd never know that because of the size of the crowd and the volume of the chatter on the sidewalk in front of the church after mass.
|Sunset on Kingsbridge Avenue. Notice the two churches.|
Catholics are required to go to mass on Sundays and special Holy Days. Those are the rules. A lot of Catholics don't pay attention to the rules, especially when they involve getting up early on a Sunday morning. Special days like Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Easter and Christmas are an exception. Many Catholics who never open the doors of a church at any other time will show up religiously on those occasions. The population inside the church grows exponentially on those days, as does the crowd on the sidewalk after mass. I have tried to walk through that crowd. The uncharitable thoughts that run through my mind when it takes me five minutes to walk a few feet, including trying to avoid photobombing several people, are not the kind that a person should be thinking in front of a church.
The Anglican/Episcopal church, two doors over from St. John/Visitation, is the Church of the Mediator. Being an Episcopal parish in a working class Roman Catholic neighborhood means that their congregation is small and they don't have much money. They have to raise money in other ways beside the usual collection baskets, raffles, bake sales and flea markets. As a result, there is always something going on over there. They have a farmer's market on Sundays. They host martial arts classes, concerts and plays. Their basement is the local voting precinct. These things give the Catholics from two doors over plenty of reason to visit the Episcopal church and spend their money, which makes the Episcopalians happy.
A few years back, the Church of the Mediator sold a chunk of their property to a real estate developer, who built some luxury condos. Apparently, nobody told the developer that building expensive luxury housing in a Dominican neighborhood, next door to a church, two blocks from a noisy elevated subway line and an easy walk to corner bodegas, a couple of donut shops, several dollar stores, a couple of Dunkin Donuts, a McDonald's, a couple of gas stations, three diners, at least two Caribbean restaurants, a Korean greengrocer, who knows how many hair salons and manicure places and a couple of Chinese variety stores -- places that sort of scream "working class ethnic neighborhood" -- would not be a good idea. So who moved in? A clinic, a medical imaging place, etc.
The neighborhood is temporarily saved from being gentrified, which is fine with me.
|View of the Elevated Subway Tracks|